You may have read or heard about Lassa fever from the news or other sources, but the extent at which this disease is ravaging people's health and claiming lives is so alarming and demands serious attention.
About 10 states across the country (Bauchi, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe and Oyo) have been affected by the disease and reports say the disease is spreading fast. According to reports in today's Punch News, the Federal Government of Nigeria said the mortality rate of the re-emergence of Lassa fever has increased to 43.2 per cent and has claimed the lives of five more people. With the development, the death toll has now hit 40 as against 35 that was recorded on Thursday, thereby bringing the total number of reported cases to 86.
The Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole, at a news conference, stated that two more states, namely Plateau and Gombe, have been affected by the disease, which is in its sixth week. Meanwhile, laboratories have confirmed 17 cases, which are indicative of a new outbreak of the disease as 80 per cent of human infections are asymptomatic.
Guardian News also learnt that at the rate the current Lassa fever outbreak is ravaging in Nigeria, the Federal Government may soon have no option but to declare an emergency to hasten containment.
Meanwhile, the Lagos State Ministry of Health, worried about the outbreak of Lassa fever in some states, has alerted residents on the need to protect their lives and those of others around them.
You may want to ask what Lassa Fever is.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), Lassa fever is an acute viral haemorrhagic illness caused by Lassa virus, a member of the arenavirus family of viruses. It is transmitted to humans from contacts with food or household items contaminated with rodent excreta. The disease is endemic in the rodent population in parts of West Africa. Person-to-person infections and laboratory transmission can also occur, particularly in the hospital environment in the absence of adequate infection control measures. Diagnosis and prompt treatment are essential.
Though first described in the 1950s, the virus causing Lassa disease was not identified until 1969. About 80% of people who become infected with Lassa virus have no symptoms. One in five infections result in severe disease, where the virus affects several organs such as the liver, spleen and kidneys.
Lassa fever is a zoonotic disease, meaning that humans become infected from contact with infected animals. The animal reservoir, or host, of Lassa virus is a rodent of the genus Mastomys, commonly known as the “multimammate rat.” Mastomys rats infected with Lassa virus do not become ill, but they can shed the virus in their urine and faeces.
Because the clinical course of the disease is so variable, detection of the disease in affected patients has been difficult. However, when presence of the disease is confirmed in a community, prompt isolation of affected patients, good infection protection and control practices and rigorous contact tracing can stop outbreak.
What are the Symptoms of Lassa fever?
WHO says the incubation period of Lassa fever ranges from 6-21 days. The onset of the disease, when it is symptomatic, is usually gradual, starting with fever, general weakness, and malaise. After a few days, headache, sore throat, muscle pain, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, cough, and abdominal pain may follow. In severe cases facial swelling, fluid in the lung cavity, bleeding from the mouth, nose, vagina or gastrointestinal tract and low blood pressure may develop. Protein may be noted in the urine. Shock, seizures, tremor, disorientation, and coma may be seen in the later stages. Deafness occurs in 25% of patients who survive the disease. In half of these cases, hearing returns partially after 1-3 months. Transient hair loss and gait disturbance may occur during recovery.
It could be fatal! - Death usually occurs within 14 days of onset in fatal cases. The disease is especially severe late in pregnancy, with maternal death and/or fetal loss occurring in greater than 80% of cases during the third trimester.
Humans usually become infected with Lassa virus from exposure to urine or faeces of infected Mastomys rats. Lassa virus may also be spread between humans through direct contact with the blood, urine, faeces, or other bodily secretions of a person infected with Lassa fever. There is no epidemiological evidence supporting airborne spread between humans. Person-to-person transmission occurs in both community and health-care settings, where the virus may be spread by contaminated medical equipment, such as re-used needles. Sexual transmission of Lassa virus has been reported.
How can we prevent Lassa?
In order to prevent Lassa fever, you are advised to ensure a clean and hygienic environment to discourage rodents from entering homes. Effective measures include storing grain and other foodstuffs in rodent-proof containers, disposing of garbage far from the home, maintaining clean households and keeping cats.
Educate your family members and be careful to avoid contact with blood, body fluids, contaminated surfaces or materials such as clothing and bedding.
Ensure you dispose all wastes properly and clean the environment so that rats are not attracted.
Also be careful to apply standard infection prevention and control precautions while caring for sick persons regardless of their presumed diagnosis. These include basic hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, use of personal protective equipment and safe burial practices.
Last Updated: 30-Jun-2016 07:39 PM
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